"Being There" Deluxe Edition includes the original album, 15 previously unissued demos, outtakes & never before heard songs, KCRW 11/13/96 session and liner notes by Steve Hyden. 4xLP 180g black vinyl.
Rock‘n’roll is a sucker’s bet on these songs, something you pour your heart and soul and money and labor and dreams into and for what? Creative and financial frustration? “We’ve got solid-state technology,” Tweedy sings on “Red-Eyed and Blue”; “Tapes on the floor/Some songs we can’t afford to play.” So, why were they even doing it? That’s what Wilco are trying to figure out on Being There, and they need your help. It’s useful to imagine each of these songs being sung from the stage directly and explicitly to the audience who has paid to see Wilco. As Tweedy sings on “I Got You (At the End of the Century),” “I got you and I still believe that you’re all that I will ever need/It’s you.” That “you” means us. Are we enough for them? Is our applause really that valuable?
Being There flirts with cynicism, but really the mood is sober, world-weary, adult. “There is no sunken treasure/Rumored to be wrapped inside my ribs,” Tweedy sings on “Sunken Treasure,” the slow-burn epic that anchors the second disc of this double album. “Music is my savior/I was maimed by rock and roll.” If rock had once been a liberating medium, after Nirvana it had become an albatross around the neck of every dreamer with a guitar. But Tweedy finds his way in the end: Closer “Dreamer in My Dreams” may be the most unflinchingly personal song on the record, but it’s also the wildest, the wooliest, maybe the most raucous Wilco have ever sounded. “Well I know I’ve made mistakes,” he sings; “I’m passing them on.” Just when you think the song is ending, the band kicks it up again, as though reluctant to stop playing. Only when the song ends do they have to face real life again.
At the heart of this bruised and tender record is the frazzled relationship between artist and audience, which makes this reissue more powerful and essential than your typical album repackaging. Digital media means we as an audience have less and less to give an artist, and rock‘n’roll may be even more of a fool’s errand now than it was in 1996, when people bought CDs by the handful and even a mid-level band like pre-Foxtrot Wilco could make a comfortable living driving around the country in a van. Being There sounds even direr and more desperate than it once did, and the bonus material expands upon its themes. The “Party Horn” mix of “Monday” actually sounds richer and more excitable than the studio version, especially with its screeching sax solo. Most of the outtakes and alternate takes still have studio chatter attached to them, showing the band goofing around in the studio or half-assing the demos. “I think that was good enough,” Tweedy deadpans after a beautifully understated version of “Dynamite My Soul.”
All of Tweedy’s big ideas about his vocation sound even more volatile on the two full live sets included on the 5xCD version, with “Sunken Treasure” and “Hotel Arizona” making the most of Tweedy’s rapport with the audience (“This is a true story. Sorta.”) and the noise of the crowd. Maybe that’s where the album’s title comes from. It is, of course, a reference to the 1979 Peter Sellers film, but it’s also a twist on the old adage about concerts and concert films: I guess you had to be there. We’ve always been a crucial part of Being There, always an unseen force motivating Wilco from one show to the next, but these live cuts make it explicit. It’s as though Tweedy played the long game on this sucker’s bet, waiting 21 years to make the ultimate version of Being There. -Pitchfork